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Non-Review Review: Spider-Man – Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home cannot help but exist in the shadow of Avengers: Endgame.

Indeed, one of the problems marketing Far From Home was the manner in which the entire emotional premise of the film served as a spoiler for Endgame, which meant that the film had to wait quite late in the game to release its second trailer. This sets up an interesting tension with Far From Home, which finds itself in the the seemingly contradictory position of being both the last movie in the current “phase” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also a film actually being produced by a company other than Marvel Studios.

Masking his feelings.

This weird push-and-pull runs through Far From Home, which seems caught between existing as a coda and epilogue to Endgame and working as a Spider-Man movie in its own right. To a certain extent, this was always going to be a tension within Far From Home, even before Endgame set its sights on becoming the biggest movie of all time. Endgame was always going to exert a gravity on Far From Home, given its plot mechanics and its character decisions. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, along with director Jon Watts, were always going to be reacting to narrative and character choices that they never made.

As such, the most interesting thing that Far From Home can do is to literalise that tension.

Night Monkey Moves.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Pilot (Review)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very competent production. It looks lavish. It connects the dots. It reminds the audience that it’s connected to a string of blockbuster movies without being pushy about it. It introduces a diverse ensemble. It sets up long-running mysteries and story arcs. It’s a tight and focused, and controlled piece of television.

Perhaps too controlled. There’s something oddly restrained and oddly refined about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., feeling a little smoother and a little more polished than a pilot really should. There’s not a hair out of place, but only because everything has been so meticulously styled. This isn’t a bad thing – the pilot plays remarkably well – but it just feels a bit limp, a bit lifeless.

It’s as if we’ve tuned into a Life Model Decoy of a Joss Whedon show.

Phil us in...

Phil us in…

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Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye (Review)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye is pretty much a companion piece to Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimate Comics: Ultimates run. Unlike other miniseries like Ultimate Comics: Thor or Ultimate Comics: Captain America, Hawkeye isn’t designed to be read on its own. It is clearly intended as a story to be read in parallel with Hickman’s on-going Ultimates narrative, unfolding at the same time alongside that particular story. As such, it’s a weird miniseries to read on its own terms, doing a rather excellent job of fleshing out the global scale of Hickman’s Ultimates work, but never really working on its own terms.

Broken arrow...

Broken arrow…

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Iron Man by David Michelinie & Bob Layton (& John Romita Jr.) Omnibus, Vol 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

It’s hard to believe, given the high profile the character has attained since Robert Downey Jr. first played Tony Stark in Iron Man back in 2008, but Iron Man used to be one of Marvel’s second-tier characters. Of course, like any other comic book character, Iron Man has had his ups and downs. There have been solid runs by great creative teams, and disappointing stories told by writers and artists unsuited to the character. However, Iron Man never really had one of those iconic comic book runs of the seventies and eighties, the kind of high-profile character-defining run like Walt Simonson’s tenure on Thor or Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil or Chris Clarement’s extended run on the X-Men franchise.

Perhaps the closest to such a run from the Bronze Age is the work by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, who actually enjoyed two extended runs writing for the character at the end of the seventies and into the eighties. This gigantic omnibus collection includes the first of those two runs, which were bisected (mostly) by Denny O’Neil’s extended time on the title. While it’s not as cohesive and solid a run as any of the aforementioned examples, it still demonstrates a solid understanding of Iron Man, and features two of the character’s most iconic stories.

You have to whip it...

You have to whip it…

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: “You’d Love My Boyfriend, He’s a Total Chick Flick Nut” (ParaNorman)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #7

I’m normally hesitant to involve politics in this blog. It is, after all, a blog about popular culture. Indeed, I am the first to complain about obnoxious celebrities standing on their soapbox espousing their political beliefs. It’s not that I disagree with them, or that they aren’t entitled to their opinion, I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that being famous makes you an expert to speak on a particular cause or issue. Still, in the spirit of Christmas, allow me one small digression.

That said, I couldn’t help but smile at the climax to ParaNorman, a solidly entertaining family adventure that took its own message to heart. Embracing the idea that there’s nothing scary about something just because it’s different than you, it earned the wrath of the extreme right because it dared to suggest that one of its character might be in a loving and stable homosexual relationship. It’s great to see a family film actual acknowledge that sort of diversity, particularly in a way that doesn’t sensationalise the matter in hand. It’s a damn funny one-liner to boot, and the fact that it’s willing to call the audience on their assumptions is particularly endearing.

paranorman7

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Throwing the Toys Together (The Avengers)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #9

The Avengers had its share of problems – it was weirdly paced; the Hulk’s character arc seemed to come a bit out of left field; Loki had no real sense of motivation; the film effectively undermined the wonderful ending to Thor; it didn’t really deal with any of the questions raised by Nick Fury’s actions; and Disney insisted that we call it Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in this part of the world, in case my grandmother might show up and wonder where “the nice chap with the umbrella” had gone. However, it also had its strengths, and these strengths were rooted in the fact that director Joss Whedon was keen not overly intellectualise the premise or the characters, and accepted the glee of knocking all those iconic toys together.

avengers15

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Meme of the Moment: Honest Trailer for The Avengers

Readers will know that I’m a big fan of geeky stuff. So I thought I’d pass this on. It’s Screen Junkies’ surprisingly reflective commentary on The Avengers, which opened up 2012’s blockbuster season with a bang. While I enjoyed it, I wasn’t as much of a fan of it as most, and a lot of the reasons are covered in the trailer. (In particular, the fact it completely invalidates the ending to Thor, the fact that Loki has no motivation for what he’s doing, and the contrivance of his plan to bring together the only people who could beat him.) It doesn’t quite cover the somewhat thematic and structural problems raised by Nick Fury, which the film alludes to, but never addresses  – but it’s all in good fun. And well worth a look.

Although, to be honest, gentle tongue-in-cheek ribbing aside, I think I’m still in the minority in not quite loving The Avengers as much as everybody else. Again, not hating or disliking, but just not liking as much.

Secret Warriors Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

There are plans within plans… wheels within wheels. The old order is waking from a deep sleep any my masters… they hunger for knowledge of this new world.

– Leviathan Disciple

Secret Warriors is an interesting ride. It’s a rather bold narrative, crafted with a great deal of skill by author Jonathan Hickman, exploring an interesting underbelly of the Marvel Universe, while providing a pretty compelling exploration of Marvel’s super-spy Nick Fury. It reads like a densely-packed pulpy espionage thriller, with Hickman cleverly layering the story and gradually peeling back the skin to reveal wheels within wheels. While the climax of the story isn’t as strong as it should be, Secret Warriors still makes for an interesting read, a relatively long-running series that was carefully planned out from the beginning and executed with considerable style.

Secret Agent Man!

Note: There will be spoilers in this here review. Don’t worry, I’ll flag them before we reach them, but given the twisty nature of the narrative, I thought I’d let you know up-front.

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Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (Review/Retrospective)

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up occupies a strange place in Marvel canon. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by a rake of top-tier talent, it was essentially a series designed to showcase these impressive artists while adding a bit of depth and breadth to the then-fledgeling Ultimate Marvel Universe. Essentially a continuity that had been launched from scratch, with the goal of attracting new fans put off by decades of back story in the regular shared universe, Brian Michael Bendis had pioneered the line with his superb Ultimate Spider-Man, a book that he is still writing today (albeit in a slightly different form). Due to its nature, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a somewhat disjointed effort, where quality varies almost from issue-to-issue, but it’s still worth a look for anybody with any interest in Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work.

Who says there aren’t crocodiles in the sewer?

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A Film By Any Other Name: The Art of Stupid Movie Branding…

I have a confession to make. I did not go to see The Avengers. I went to see Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble. I didn’t mention this before because… well, that’s a stupid name and people aren’t idiots. If I talk about “The Avengers” and mention details like a “giant green rage monster”, “Nick Fury”, “box office records” or even “enjoyable”, odds are that you will know the film that I am talking about. I’m normally quite reluctant to attack particular movie practices as silly or illogical, if only because I’ve no direct experience of how the industry works.

To be fair, I’ll generally assume that the studios know what they’re talking about when it comes to making movies. However, when it comes to slapping silly names on their posters and insisting that the audience refer to a movie by a convoluted, generic and awkward focus-group-crafted title, I do feel like I have an opinion. The Avengers is the most recent high-profile example, but I’ve found myself increasing irritated by this somewhat pointless branding.

Silly titles make Darren angry!

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